Mad Men, Mistakes, and Moving On


About a week ago I was finishing the show Mad Men, and I was blown away by a conversation between Peggy Olson (arguably everyone’s favorite feminist) and her work partner/friendship turned fire love interest, Stan Rizzo. For anyone who isn’t a Mad Men fanatic (why aren’t you…please reevaluate your life choices…go watch every episode now…) I’ll fill you in on the details of Peggy Olson’s character.

Peggy is a 20 something career minded woman with dreams, aspirations, and the tenacity that few people her age acquire in a lifetime. She works her way up from the secretary of the womanizing Creative Director, Donald Draper to become a successful female copywriter and business partner in the company. Peggy has a few love interests along the way, but they always take a back seat to her career. Her first love interest is Peter Campbell, an account executive whose ego and wealthy family give him a sense of entitlement towards everything, including women.

To sum it up…Pete and Peggy have sex..Peggy ends up pregnant…Peggy gains weight and becomes an object of scrutiny and gossip for the whole office…She is criticized by her family…a local priest…and almost entirely alone through the tumultuous and messy process that is having an illegitimate pregnancy in the 60’s (which surprisingly hasn’t changed much today)…She has the baby, gives it up for adoption, and continues her career with many more obstacles as a woman in a predominantly male time period and industry…In episode 11 in the last season of Mad Men, Peggy and Stan have a conversation that has stuck with me and shaken my already confusing views on feminism/woman’s rights/abortion etc… and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. The conversation goes something like this…

PEGGY: I guess that’s the secret to your spectacular career, the fact that you don’t have kids

STAN: Well not that I know of…

PEGGY: That’s funny to you because it wouldn’t matter if you did, you could walk away

STAN: I would never do that

PEGGY: But you may not even know, that’s what you said

STAN:  You’re right I didn’t mean to judge

PEGGY: But you did and you don’t understand

STAN: “I had a mother! And she wasn’t great, and I don’t know if she wanted me, so I understand something!”

PEGGY: “But you don’t understand your mother! Maybe she was very young and followed her heart and got in trouble, and no one should have to make a mistake just like a man does and not be able to move on. She should be able to live the rest of her life just like a man does. Maybe you do what you thought was the best thing.”

That line…“No one should have to make a mistake just like a man does and not be able to move on.”

That line is haunting, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. My knee jerk reaction is to agree with it, to rally behind it, to feel the same indignation Peggy feels. Of “It’s not fair and life should be fair and equal!” It is that feeling that makes me completely relate to and understand why people support a woman’s right to choose.

Our society is fixated on second chances, redemption stories, do overs. In fact that’s the main part of Christianity people like and can agree with…the idea of an absolution of our sins complete with the full package of starting over brand new.

Making a mistake and moving on. Just like a man does.

My question is, what kind of world does this become when we foster a society that can move on from its mistakes without dealing with the consequences?

What happens when we create a safe place for people to not take responsibility for their actions?

It isn’t fair that God or mother nature or evolution or all of the above made it so women are the ones bearing children

It isn’t fair that God or mother nature or evolution or all of the above made it so men don’t bear children

But should fairness really be the motive of our decision-making on this issue? The fact that men can move on from the mistake of a one night stand or getting someone pregnant at an economically bad time does not justify them doing so.

Disclaimer***I am not talking about cases of rape/incest/or cases that threaten the life of the mother/baby (these are an astonishing low percentage of abortions that take place in America)***

As a 24 year old female, I have made many mistakes in my personal life, in my career, in my health choices, in my relationships. These mistakes have challenged me and changed me and molded who I am as a person. These mistakes are a part of me, and I carry them with me as a reminder that I am here. I am human. I am strong. I am able to adapt and grow from my mistakes. But none of these mistakes have I been able to erase or undo or abort. And I am glad I don’t have the choice to.

So how do we foster a society that promotes responsibility rather than regret and a quick solution?

Firstly by understanding no female wants to have an abortion. Given the option any female would have rather prevented the pregnancy in the first place.

Secondly we foster responsibility through education and availability of resources. Not by de-funding Planned Parenthood…not by educating our children and teenagers about abstinence and nothing else…not by ostracizing, criticizing, judging young mothers who are pregnant when it’s economically irresponsible or financially and professionally inconvenient.

One of the easiest ways we can promote responsibility is through our own actions and reactions to those teenagers and 20 somethings who are the most vulnerable. Talk to your children. Talk to other people’s children.

Make it your responsibility.